I wrote, submitted and then retracted a letter to the Editor of the Calgary Herald this evening. He's dead. He's not going to hurt anymore people in future. It's no longer my fight. Here's what I wrote:
Alberta’s Injustice to Victims of Sexual Assault
Between November 6, 1985 and January 29, 1986, I was in the hands of a psychopath. I was raped and tortured. I experienced the furthest extremity of soul-destroying helplessness and humiliation. When the last of my human dignity had dissolved into tears and begging, that monster didn’t have to silence me, because he knew the world would not listen. I was a 25-year-old man, after all, not a woman or a child.
And, indeed, the world did not listen.
After a long stretch in hospital, during which my doctor refused even to talk to me about what had happened, a law professor at the University of Calgary was kind enough to advise me during the summer of 1986. She told me, quite rightly, not to report what had happened to the police, because they would only laugh at an adult male rape victim. If I couldn’t live with the injustice of that monster going unpunished, or with the prospect of his going on to victimize yet more boys and young men, she advised that I sue him.
I did my best. While that professor secured me a brilliant lawyer in Calgary, the rapist’s assets were elsewhere -- and there I couldn’t get a competent lawyer to take on a case of male rape. A few were understanding. But such things, they said, are simply not spoken of. I knew nothing of the law then, and simply could not get a statement of claim filed before November 6, 1987 -- when Alberta’s Limitations Act slammed the door to justice closed.
What was left of me disintegrated. After a few years, thanks to the courageous help of the woman who’d become my wife, I tried to carry on with my life as best I could. My previous academic career nothing more than a memory, over the course of years I had to cobble together a very different future in the business world. In time, I’d become modestly successful. But I never gave up my hope of securing some belated and inadequate semblance of justice, and from time to time consulted lawyers without result. In the late 1990s, however, pioneering efforts to reform the Limitations Act gave me a glimmer of hope.
Indeed, the Alberta Legislature’s work would win praise and inspire efforts to reform other limitations statutes. But it’s seldom that early efforts gets things perfect. And Alberta’s new Limitations Act got it wrong as far as sexual assault is concerned. Ironically, during the years that followed, limitations statutes in every province and territory surrounding Alberta were modernized to exclude sexual assault suits from limitations periods. But adults sexually assaulted in Alberta more than two years prior remained locked out of the civil courts.
There is only so long one can carry such a burden, and the beginning of my end came in late 2009. At the beginning of November, it occurred to me that, in less than a week, 24 years would have passed since my nightmare began. That moment was the beginning of a breakdown that would severely disable me. Through the fog of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), all I could see was the injustice imposed by the Limitations Act. By the middle of 2011, I’d come to the top of a long waiting list for treatment of PTSD in Ontario. With expert care at Women’s College Hospital, I began to recover. And I was able to formulate a very simple argument, which received expert legal support, that Alberta’s Limitations Act should be “read down” in cases of sexual assault.
Simplifying greatly: Victims of sexual assault are victims of discrimination. That discrimination ranges from social stigmatization to irrational victim-blaming so deeply entrenched in our culture that it manifests itself as irrational victim self-blame. Well-founded fear of being exposed to such discrimination prevents the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assault from taking legal action against their attackers. Those making other civil legal claims are not blocked by such discrimination from filing suit in a timely manner. Therefore, the Limitations Act’s application of the same limitations periods to sexual assault suits as to other civil claims constitutes “adverse effect discrimination” contrary to s. 15(1) of the Charter.
There, that wasn’t too difficult. Seems rather obvious, in retrospect.
So it was, in late 2011, that I started gearing up to file an originating application with the Court of Queen’s Bench. Unfortunately, I was still in a fragile medical state and undergoing intensive treatment at hospital. And I was stopped dead in my tracks by a seeming triviality: the stress of a wrongful eviction proceeding. I handily won that fight. But the PTSD for which I was being treated badly worsened. I was left severely disabled. My application went unfiled.
From there, PTSD gradually ground my rebuilt life into dust. My wife and I fell into poverty because of my inability to work. This past spring, we were evicted from our home. Last month, my wife abandoned me in despair. This coming Friday, I’m scheduled to pick up the forms from my doctor for my application to the Ontario Disability Support Program. Just today I thought to myself, once my ODSP starts and I’m again safely housed, perhaps then I can at last file my application. Perhaps then the monster might be called to account.
Late this afternoon, I checked the news. And I learned that the monster had died.
For nearly 29 years, various revisions of Alberta’s Limitations Act had kept him safe. I know from his own mouth that he’d victimized others. I’ve no doubt that after he’d destroyed my life he went on to destroy more. I did what I had the strength to do. But he had protection from an unexpected source: the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. And he escaped. I will now never be able to make my argument for bringing Alberta’s Limitations Act into the present century.
I can only hope there is another sexual assault victim reading this who will.
24 September 2014